By JOSEPH L. GALLOWAY
Just when it seemed that the situation in Iraq couldn’t get any murkier, more muddled or more dangerous, it did. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, our “friend” or our client, if you will, has openly declared his independence from us and his dependence on his most important domestic supporter, the anti-American Shiite Muslim cleric Moqtada al-Sadr and his Mahdi Army militia.
Maliki, it’s becoming clear, is as big a part of the problem in Iraq as al-Sadr and his gang of thugs and murderers. But President Bush is, well, staying the course with Maliki with all the obstinacy that he’s displayed throughout his sojourn in Iraq. The Iraqi prime minister threw the idea of benchmarks for progress toward disarming the Iraqi militias and standing up competent and capable Iraqi army and police units back in the administration’s face last week.
Then, this week, he ordered American troops to pull down their security checkpoints around al-Sadr’s power base in Baghdad’s Sadr City, home to 2 million Shia. American troops had sealed off all the routes in and out of the neighborhood in an attempt to find an Iraqi-born American soldier who’s believed to have been kidnapped by the Mahdi Army militiamen.
Maliki obviously is never going to have any part of disarming the Mahdi militia, the Badr Corps or any other Shiite militia, as his nation descends into civil war. He doesn’t trust the Iraqi army or police any more than anyone else does. If there’s going to be a fight to the finish, Maliki wants the deck stacked in favor of the Shiites. What Washington wants is irrelevant and immaterial to Maliki at this point. Benchmarking and videoconferences with President Bush and rush visits to Baghdad by national security adviser Stephen Hadley won’t make any difference.
As we approach a December benchmark - standing up 330,000 ill-trained, ill-equipped and unreliable Iraqi army and police units who aren’t up to the job of keeping the lid from blowing off - Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld announced that he’s inclined to approve a plan to add 30,000 more Iraqi troops to that force. That guarantees that American trainers and advisers to the Iraqi forces, as well as the other 147,000 embattled U.S. troops, will remain in Iraq for the foreseeable future unless the newly independent Maliki orders all of them to go home.
As if 30,000 more Iraqi troops, with the same hasty training, questionable leadership and ambiguous loyalties as the first bunch, might somehow make a difference. In a war full of futile gestures, that one takes the cake, Mr. Secretary.
Meanwhile, The New York Times reports that an important benchmark - a classified briefing chart prepared each month by the intelligence section of the U.S. Central Command - shows that Iraq is steadily edging closer to chaos. The chart, an “Index of Civil Conflict,” measures the escalation in sectarian violence since last February and highlights the ineffectiveness of the Iraqi security forces and the waning influence of moderate Iraqi religious and political figures.
It highlights a growing number of urban areas where ethic cleansing is under way and reports that violence is at an all-time high and spreading geographically in Iraq. The civil strife index chart mirrors the growing concern among the military commanders most closely involved with the war in Iraq, and it’s a warning that even worse news could be on the horizon.
Contrast that with President Bush’s recent declarations that although Iraq is a tough situation, we’re winning and victory and glory will be ours - or his - in the end. It’s also clear that our uniformed military leaders are worried that, when push comes to shove, the administration’s micromanagers will try to blame them for failing to achieve that victory with too few troops and too little freedom to change a failing course.
The most recent polls indicate that the number of Iraqis who want us out of there is approaching 70 percent. It may be ironic that the number of Americans who want us out of there, too, is nearing the same percentage. They want us to leave. We want us to leave. There’s nothing standing in the way of satisfying both majorities except a president, a vice president and a defense secretary who are willing to fight to the last man - willing to drive our military to utter destruction - before they’ll admit that they were wrong, wrong, wrong from deluded beginning to wretched end.